The Eisenhower Memorial Commission, a bipartisan body tasked with creating a memorial to the 34th president of the United States, has agreed to delay a critical design hearing tentatively scheduled for July.
Opponents of the memorial, designed by Frank Gehry, have been building political support for changing or scuttling the Gehry design and Thursday the commission announced that it would not appear before the National Capital Planning Commission on July 12. Given that the NCPC doesn’t hold a monthly hearing in August, that decision appeared to delay approval for the memorial into September or beyond.
The decision not to appear before the NCPC and the cancellation of a historical review meeting June 20 came after Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar requested to view models of the memorial and meet with key figures in the design controversy.
A spokesman for Salazar said that the secretary hadn’t asked for a delay in the process and that a statement issued May 30 had been misinterpreted as a call for delay.
Nonetheless, Salazar’s interest in meeting with Gehry and members of the Eisenhower family was a factor in the commission’s decision to forego the NCPC appearance in July.
The memorial commission’s co-chairmen, Sens. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), said in a statement, “We want to make sure that any outstanding questions are answered as the process moves forward.”
Unclear is when such a meeting might take place and who would be invited.
A spokeswoman for the memorial commission said her group had not heard anything from Salazar’s office about the possibility of a meeting.
“We would be happy to attend, but we haven’t yet been invited,” Chris Kelley Cimko said.
Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for Salazar, characterized the secretary’s involvement as an effort to bring consensus to the process.
He declined to comment on whether the secretary had been lobbied by Dwight Eisenhower’s granddaughter Susan Eisenhower, who has been leading the family’s opposition to the memorial.
Susan Eisenhower, who endorsed President Obama in the 2008 election but has not endorsed a candidate this cycle, confirmed that she and her sister Anne had met with Salazar, but said the meeting was “at his request.”
Asked whether her possible 2012 endorsement of Obama, who appointed Salazar, was a factor in the meeting with the secretary, she said, “I don’t think that’s it at all.”
Salazar’s interest in the Eisenhower Memorial process, she said, reflects “a desire to get ahead of the curve and talk to as many people as possible about the memorial,” especially after a recent controversy over a truncated quotation on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial embarrassed the National Park Service, which is the steward of the major memorials in Washington.
Gehry’s design for the memorial, planned for a four-acre site just off the Mall at Independence and Maryland avenues SW, was unanimously endorsed by the commission’s 12 members in March 2010, including David Eisenhower, grandson of the former president.
Growing family opposition to the design led to David Eisenhower’s resignation from the commission in December 2011. Nevertheless, in March, after a contentious congressional hearing in which Susan Eisenhower invoked communism and the specter of Hitler’s death camps in an attack on the Gehry designs, the commission met again and re-endorsed Gehry.
Since then, opponents of the memorial have been working the political process, seeking to delay the memorial or completely remove the key element of Gehry’s design — metal tapestries that depict scenes of Eisenhower’s boyhood home in Abilene, Kan.
The family reiterated its opposition to the tapestries after a revised design was unveiled in May.
On May 31, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) also called for a delay as he seeks documents about the competition process that led to Gehry’s selection as the memorial’s architect.
Although Salazar’s office stressed the secretary’s interest in finding common ground among the parties, and the memorial commission said that Gehry remained open to meeting with all parties, the National Civic Art Society, a nonprofit group that also opposes the memorial, characterized the delay as a victory.
“This is huge,” said Justin Shubow, the art society’s president. “The David-like opposition has delayed the Goliath Eisenhower Memorial Commission yet again.”